Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Telethon. Without a doubt the most frightening thing I have seen in my life. Pat Kenny trying to be laid back…its enough to send a shiver up your spine. Anyway, have a nice night whatever you get up to. Oh, if you happen to be a student living in south Belfast and you are heading out tonight keep it down on the way home from the pub. I have to work in the morning:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some thoughts on Fianna Fail's recent discovery of the north

It is over a month now since Fianna Fail announced that they would be organising in Northern Ireland for the first time and, finally, I have only just now managed to muster up enough enthusiasm to comment on it. I don't know about you but I find the whole thing a bit difficult to get excited about. In the past I've expressed a desire to see parties from south of the border and Great Britain organising here in the province in order to give people a real choice at the ballot box. However, what sort of choice will Fianna Fail offer us?

First of all ask yourself what FF represents. I cannot find one word or phrase to sum up their philosophy. Republican? Conservative? Populist? Liberal? Nationalist? Centrist? Maybe they are even socialist, as Bertie Ahern and Brian Lenihan would have claimed. They could quite conceivably be all of these. Or none of these. Charles Haughey once claimed that he was not sure if Fianna Fail was even a political party.

I visited fiannafail.ie in an attempt to find an answer but to no avail. Unlike the websites of Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, the Greens, the Ulster Unionists, the DUP and every other party on the island there was nothing explaining Fianna Fail's political philosophy, aims, history or policies. There wasn’t even a mention of their ties to some of Europe’s more unpleasant right of centre organisations. I'm sure all of this isn't an oversight on their part.

Ever since their formation they have tended to use ambiguity to their advantage; hence their remarkable ability down through several generations to dominate entire areas from the urban inner city to the rural farmsteads. There are entire families throughout the Republic that simply could never envisage voting for anyone other than the Soldiers of Destiny. In a way then maybe old Charlie Haughey hadn’t lost his marbles. FF aren’t really big into politics and nor are they what most would recognise as a party. Think of them more as one big family. And all families have some cousins or aunts or uncles that are best kept at arms length. For FF these family members were, for almost 80 years, northern nationalists.

Now, after years of doing their best to ignore their six county brothers and sisters, Fianna Fail have suddenly went to the political equivalent of a wedding reception and found out that perhaps the nordie relatives really aren’t all that bad after all. Since the decision to come north was made at Druid’s Glen the Ard Comhairle has announced the formation of a Northern Strategy Committee to deal with organising in this uncharted territory. Last weekend it was the north that took centre stage once more when Bertie Ahern delivered his speech at the party's annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration in Kildare. What I found particularly remarkable about this speech was that it only contained references to Northern Ireland. Affairs in the Republic were not mentioned once. For those of you not aux fait with the republican calendar the trip to the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone is sacred. It’s a place for grand statements and subtle hints at crucial strategic shifts. If the FF leader spends his entire time on the platform at Bodenstown talking about the north then you can be pretty certain that Dev’s boys have big plans for the occupied territory.

Fianna Fail haven’t actually announced when they will be organising cummain and standing candidates in Northern Ireland but I expect it to be sooner than a lot of people think. Don’t expect them to fall flat on their face either. This decision has not been made lightly. The question of organising in ‘the six’ is something that his been bandied around in FF circles for many years and it is unlikely that they would have taken this step if there wasn’t something big planned on the horizon. Clearly they are confident of electoral success. And why not? They already have a large chunk of the northern electorate out there simply waiting for them.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party - or most of it anyway - is widely expected to be absorbed into the FF machine. No one in either party has admitted this but neither side is rushing to rubbish the rumours. It is no secret that the vast majority of SDLP members feel no affinity whatsoever with social democrats or the left. Ivan Cooper, one of the party’s founders, has welcomed Fianna Fail’s announcement on moving north. When questioned by Jim Fitzpatrick on BBC Northern Ireland’s Politics Show about the party’s international affiliations the Strabane man wasted no time in pointing out that the SDLP’s membership of the PES and the Socialist International were moves encouraged by men of yesteryear such as Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin. That wing of the party has long since departed and it would not be an exaggeration to say that today the average SDLP voter would bear more of a resemblance to a Fianna Fail voter than a Labour one. In fact, when one looks at some of the Provos social and economic policies in the Republic it is worth wondering if both SDLP and Sinn Fein voters are really just Fianna Fail voters unable to find a proper outlet for their views on the ballot paper.

The reason people voted for John Hulme and his party during the years of violence here was precisely because they were a constitutional nationalist party and the majority of Catholics found the so-called armed struggle abhorrent. The Provisional IRA are now gone though, Sinn Fein have stolen the SDLP’s clothes and the latter now have a crisis. Two choices face the Stoops.

The first choice would be that they continue as they have for the past thirty years, only this time as the minority party of northern nationalism and without any clear short or long term strategy of how to rejuvenate their fortunes. That is a non-starter.

The second option is that they realign themselves with a southern party and become a 32 county organisation. On paper the Irish Labour Party should be their natural choice of partner but for the reasons explained above that simply will not happen (though it would be naive to rule out the possibility of some individual SDLP members and elected representatives perhaps being inclined to join Labour if the party commits itself to contesting elections in the north). Joining forces with Fianna Fail would make more sense to the grassroots and, if we put ourselves in the shoes of SDLP members for just one moment, have a number of benefits.

Firstly, a change is necessary and coming together with the largest force in Irish politics would be a massive boost for a membership which is becoming increasingly disheartened with their declining vote. Defeat after defeat to Sinn Fein is, as a party supporter from Derry told me, “taking its toll”. While victories like that of Alastair McDonnell in Belfast South at the 2005 general election did a good job in papering over the cracks, privately most members admit they can’t envisage a way to stop the slump. They can slow it down and perform damage limitation exercises - like the last Westminster election - but the truth is support is sliding and so is morale. A merger would undoubtedly raise spirits.

The second benefit would be that their new 32 county status would end Sinn Fein’s claim on being the only all-Ireland nationalist party. This is a point the Shinners have made much of during the bitter election battles with their nationalist rivals down through the peace process years. However, Sinn Fein are still a relatively small party in the south. With FF as their new northern nemesis they would no longer be fighting a small six county grouping but a 32 county monolith that dwarfs the Provos on a national level.

The third gain would come from the history and tradition that FF would bring. The republican credentials of the Durkans and the Attwoods would be boosted infinitely by bringing themselves into line with the tradition of the anti-treatyites, the martyrs of the civil war, the authors of the constitution and the party that played a massive part in the building of the independent Republic. Try as they might at the moment they just cannot ‘outgreen’ Sinn Fein. The Republican Party could help to counter that.

Fourthly, not only does FF carry with it an important historical brand of Irish republicanism, it also carries a contemporary significance in that a merger would allow former SDLP MPs, MLAs, councillors and activists to be fully integrated into the party that has been in government during the years in which the Republic has been transformed from a backward basket case state to the economic success story of the European Union. Selling the benefits of the Celtic Tiger in the north would be made much easier if you were a member of the party that can make a fairly strong case for having delivered it.

Finally, it is widely known that Sinn Fein run a very well oiled electoral organisation but if there is only one party on this island that can give them a run for their money in this department then it is undoubtedly FF. There certainly are more than just a few SDLP men and women in the north who would like their seats to be protected by that formidable FF machine.

As I said, I’ve attempted to look at this through the eyes of a northern nationalist and particularly an SDLP inclined northern nationalist. From my point of view it’s a no brainer. Mark Durkan and his colleagues most know deep down that their party has no long term future. An all out merger with Fianna Fail would provide them with so much that they either need or else simply do not have: change, expansion, tradition, success, organisation. With benefits like this why would Durkan and co let silly little ideological matters get in the way?

Taking myself out of the shoes of the SDLP member for a second and speaking from the point of view of someone firmly on the centre left, I await Fianna Fail’s arrival with quite a degree of anticipation. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to the north and, while they will obviously be a republican party, I doubt very much that the Dublin leadership will want to see their men up here getting drawn into games of tit-for-tat sectarian mudslinging. However, the main reason I welcome them is that in all likelihood their arrival will signal the end of the SDLP and thereby clear the way for an authentic social democratic party to establish itself in Northern Ireland.

I started this piece off by asking what exactly Fianna Fail stands for. The answer? Damn all. In which case they’ll be right at home in the north. Oh well. Céad míle fáilte.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bloggers of Europe, unite!

I received an email a couple of days ago from Rikke Skovgaard Andersen regarding a new online project being run by the Party of European Socialists. It is called Yourspace and it is an open consultation by the PES on what the priorities should be in the manifesto for the 2009 European elections. The four main themes in this consultation are:

*Save our planet
*New Social Europe
*European democracy and diversity
*EU in the world

This project certainly is an interesting initiative and, while I'm sure few people are eagerly awaiting the 2009 European parliamentary election, it does at least provide us with an intriguing insight into what our comrades in the rest of Europe are writing about. Unless you speak several languages fluently (as I do not) I would advise you to make sure you use Alta Vista’s Babel Fish translation tool if you want to get the pages in English. Enjoy.

Click on the link below to access Yourspace:

http://manifesto2009.pes.org/

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Miniscule sects, unite!

Bizarre manoeuvrings on the far left? Trainspotters brace yourselves.

Shortly after the General Election in the Republic earlier this year The Workers Party issued what they termed a ‘major statement’ on the fortunes of the left. It was only really major if you happened to be one of handful of people who actually penned the statement. If you happened to miss this announcment at the time and are wondering why you’re only hearing about it nearly six months on don’t be concerned. Anyway, you didn’t need an MA in political science to figure the answer out. It was generally agreed in the wake of the election that the fortunes for progressives both north and south was and indeed remains a little bit bleak. How exactly a statement from one of the most uncooperative and insular elements on the left was going to help matters wasn’t exactly clear. Or could things on the far left in this country be about to undergo a change?

The Workers Party have not always been fans of working with other socialists and, to be fair, why should they have been? For years they were the ‘official’ Moscow party in this part of the world, they were coming down with stacks of money (both counterfeit and genuine), controlled some very high profile positions in the trade union movement, had their very own military wing in case their rivals got out of hand and could even boast quite a few elected representatives. That all came to an end in the 1990s when armed wings in political parties finally became passé and the USSR went belly up though it appears that only today has the penny dropped amongst WPers that they actually aren’t the party they once were. Now could be the time for the Officials to strike some new friendships.

Next month sees The Workers Party host their Northern Ireland Regional Conference in the very plush surroundings of the Wellington Park Hotel on Belfast’s Malone Road (not many Marxists in that part of the city). The list of guest speakers throws up a couple of intriguing guests. Jon Cruddas is going to be there. Patricia McKeown of ICTU will be there too. So will a representative of the Iraqi Communist Party. This is of course fairly standard stuff for a WP conference - a British Labour MP, a local trade unionist and a couple of reps from a few foreign communist parties. Also usually included is a liberal UUP type such as Michael McGimpsey or David McClarty plus a member of Alliance and the SDLP.

Normally off-limits was sending out invites to a) Sinn Fein or b) other members of the Irish left. The Provos haven’t earned their place on the guest list just yet, though I did read the extract of a Sean Garland (who still hasn’t been sent to Guantanamo Bay) speech quite recently in which he was able to mention Sinn Fein without foaming at the mouth. The surprise presence at next month’s meeting is the inclusion in the speakers list of members of the Communist Party and the SWP. Observers of past WP Ard Feiseanna will know that their ‘comrades’ on the Irish left weren’t just not invited to the party’s big get togethers. It was much more extreme than that. They were basically treated as if they didn’t exist.

In true Stalinist fashion the SWP and Militant/SP were totally written out of history. While Joe Higgins may not have exactly been airbrushed from photographs the general feeling within The Workers Party was that the Trots were neither worth speaking to or speaking about. This superiority complex manifested itself somewhat differently when it came to the Communist Party. I’ve mentioned previously on this website about an old friend of mine who was at one time a card carrying Stick. His version of WP ‘relations’ with the CP more or less sums up the fickle nature of relationships on the left. Once, on asking a party official from Dublin why they didn’t have a better relationship with the Communists, he was met with the terse reply, “because we don’t”. No confusing the party line on that one! What made this even funnier was the fact that there wasn’t really that much ideological difference between the Communist Party and Official Sinn Fein/The Workers Party. Both were in the pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist camp. Both held strongly anti-EU and anti-NATO positions. Both had similar policies when it came to Ireland, both north and south. Yet both hated each others guts. Goulding, Garland and the rest of the Sticks saw the CP not as potential allies but as rivals, an organisation that may try to seduce the dour faced bureaucrats in Moscow they had been devoting so much time to winning over since they called off armed struggle against the British.

Perhaps time is a healer. Or perhaps their political irrelevance in 21st century Ireland has been a wake up call. Whatever the reason, the Northern Ireland Regional Conference of the WP will see John Pinkerton of the Communist Party and Jimmy Kelly of the SWP in attendance. Gerry Grainger, the head of the WP’s international department, and Pinkerton travelled to the congress of the South African Communist Party in the summertime. Both men will next month speak at a discussion on international affairs at the Wellington Park Hotel. Sharing platforms at party events and jetting off to Port Elizabeth together is quite a shift for two men who a few years ago would no doubt have despised each other.

Jimmy Kelly is a member of the Socialist Workers Party and Regional Secretary of UNITE. A former president of the TGWU and shop steward at Waterford Crystal, Kelly has a been a long term figure on the Trotskyite left in this country. Back in 2002 he stood for the SWP in Waterford in the General Election of that year, receiving a pitiful 300 votes. The idea of a Trot addressing a Workers Party event a few years back would have been akin to the Pope receiving an invite to a meeting of the Free Presbyterian Church.

It is possible that I’m reading too much into the presence of Pinkerton and Kelly at the November conference. All sides will no doubt be at pains to point out that they are only there in an individual capacity or as representatives of their union. Nevertheless the fact that the Stickies can even bear to have these people around them does mark something of a departure. Is there a chance then that this combined with the statement issued in June represent the beginnings of a coming together of forces on the far left?

It is possible. Indeed, it has already happened in other parts of Europe and even in Britain a big debate went on within the Communist Party there in 2004 as to whether they entered the RESPECT coalition (they didn’t in the end though the very fact that such a debate took place shocked more than a few). Perhaps its worth taking a look back to the statement issued by the Ard Comhairle of the WP. Referring to events south of the border the statement remarked that “the Left and Radical Republicanism have too often been diverted from the main issues and sidelined to engage in bitter infighting”. It continued to state that a desirable scenario would be for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to join forces because by doing this they “would bring to an end the phoney division between the conservative forces of the so-called National Movement which took place eighty five years ago. The present make-up of the Dáil gives conservative parties and individuals over 75% of the popular vote with a total of 134 seats and a mixed opposition of 32 seats. If such a situation where to develop it would be possible within a short space of time to demonstrate the true nature of politics in Ireland and the need for radical change in society”. Transferring such thinking to this end of the island they went on:
We would also seek to have a situation in the Northern Ireland Assembly where there is also a large conservative majority which requires to be opposed on class lines. An opposition can be built in Northern Ireland which would win support to build a democratic society where every citizen is treated equally. The key element in both states is the Unity of the Democratic and Progressive Forces. It can be built and indeed must be built over the coming period. We are under no illusions as to the difficulties we face but it is not an impossible task. It is a task in which we believe the organised Labour Movement can and must play a critical part.
Grand words indeed but even the members of the Central Executive Committee of The Workers Party must know in their hearts that this statement is filled with drivel. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are not going to unite in order to set the scene for some great class war. They know that something similar is not going to happen in the north either. And as for the arrogant figures that populate the far left putting aside their differences and giving up their roles as minor celebs (see Eamonn McCann), well don’t hold your breath if you’re hoping for it. The truth is this minor coming together of minds in a south Belfast hotel is as close to meaningless as you can get. Even if at some point in the future The Workers Party, the SWP, the Communist Party and the (so far seemingly uninvited) Socialist Party were to weld themselves together into a grand coalition the results would not rock the political establishment in either state. And apart from the odd post here and there, in the trade union movement the far left does not even have the clout it had in the seventies or eighties.

The past decade has been a disappointing one for the so-called revolutionary left in both Britain and Ireland. The nihilistic anti-globalisation movement and the broad, disjointed anti-war movement have not been the springboard for the great things they had hoped for. Just as the Socialist Alliance and RESPECT were wracked by infighting and flopped pathetically in Britain similar projects have failed to even get off the ground in Ireland. Finding people to take up the torch is also proving difficult. The youth wings of some of the above mentioned parties are not exactly bulging at the seams. None of them will actually admit it but the already small far left is in free fall.

After the General Election some figures on the far left had the nerve to scoff at the Labour Party’s disappointing performance and, granted, it was disappointing. It was not, however, disastrous. The last ten years certainly have not been glorious ones for Labour but it has at least witnessed the consistent retention of 20 or so seats in the Dail over the course of three major elections held in a period of unprecedented economic boom and their consolidation as the leading progressive force in Irish politics. While the Boyd-Barretts, the McCanns and their compatriots in the many obscure Leninist groupuscules fritter away their years building movements that can barely fill a draughty old book shop the task of all genuine socialists in Ireland must be to prepare the ground for a left led government in the Republic while constructing a viable left alternative in Northern Ireland.

For now and for the foreseeable future the space to the left of Labour in Irish politics remains of interest only to the most hardened of political anoraks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Goodbye Stan

Poor Steve Staunton. While most people demanded Stan be sacked from the his post as manager of the Republic of Ireland for the reason that he was possibly the most inept head of a national team in the history of football I just wanted to see him go because I felt sorry for him. Who will ever forget that poor little face of his in those excruciating interviews? The phrase 'rabbit in the headlights' doesn't even begin to describe it.

It's hard to believe now that things had actually started so positively. A 3-0 win in Dublin against Sweden was a great debut for Staunton, but sadly that win would be the highlight of his time in charge. Things got unbelievably worse when the mighty Cyprus thumped the Irish 5-2 in Nicosia. Just when things couldn't get any worse they did. The Republic could only manage a 2-1 victory over San Marino, and that was courtesy of an injury time Stephen Ireland goal. To put things in perspective, San Marino are one of the world's worst teams. Ranked 196th, they had a few months earlier been thumped 13-0 at home by the Germans. Staunton, however, made ridiculous post match comments about always knowing that teams like San Marino would be a threat. The misery was piled on when they blew a crucial lead twice in one match against Slovakia. After that qualification for Euro 2008 was out of the question and, if you ask me, the FAI should be thankful. Had Staunton pulled off the miracle that was needed and succeeded in getting the Republic into next year's finals the results would most likely have been terrible. A (lucky) 1-1 draw in Croke Park to the Cypriots was the icing on the cake. Last night the manager - and man who won 102 caps for the Republic - got his marching orders.

As I said, I feel sorry for Stan. In hindsight perhaps he should have turned down the offer of the job. When he took over in January 2006 he had no managerial experience. To go from being an aging player at Walsall to managing a country on the fringes of the top 10 in the FIFA world rankings was quite a leap. His companion in the job (or 'International Football Consultant' as the FAI termed it) Sir Bobby Robson wasn't up to the job either, not for lack of experience but due to his unfortunate ongoing health problems. I've always felt that Brian Kerr should have been given another crack at qualification but then what would I know? Anyhow, the FAI promised their supporters a 'world class' manager last time. Maybe, just maybe, they will deliver one this time. And we shouldn't forget that Northern Ireland, who lack the amount of Premiership players enjoyed by Staunton during his reign, are still in with a chance of qualifying for next summer's tournament so there could still be Irish representation yet.

At least Stan has been put out of his misery. He was too nice a bloke to have to put up with all that booing and endless criticism. Maybe he'll even learn to smile again. Nobody needs this sort of thing:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"The forest is a dangerous place, where everyone has nuts on their face..."

A while back I asked if anyone had any idea when exactly the new series of The Mighty Boosh would be hitting our screens. Well, now we know:

*Thursday November 15th 2007 @ 10:30pm on BBC3.

Can’t be much clearer than that, can I?

Just thought I’d tell you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Galloway vs SWP (Part 191)

The ongoing saga in RESPECT of the dispute between George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party took another hilarious twist last week. It's probably better to hear the frolics currently taking place in the organisation that calls itself 'the Unity Coalition' straight from the horse's mouth. In this case the equine creature happens to be the SWP. The following was contained in their internal party notes document:

Two extremely unpleasant meetings have laid bare the attack on the left at the heart of the present disputes. At the first there was an attempt to derail the only constitutionally supplied list of delegates for the Respect conference. During the meeting a handwritten list with partial names was suddenly produced, and an attempt made to get it endorsed. A group of people who support George Galloway walked out. The meeting continued and the original list was passed. At the second meeting after an initially calm beginning, George Galloway launched a vicious assault on the SWP and on "Leninists". This is a disgraceful attack on the party which defended him during the Big Brother episode, played a crucial role in getting him elected and is the backbone of Respect in most parts of the country. The meeting ended with Galloway telling members of the SWP to "off you go" - "fuck off, fuck off the lot of you".

Bet he wouldn’t speak to Dennis Rodman like that.

I was always sceptical about how an arch Stalinist like Galloway could ever have decent relations in an organisation packed full of Trotskyites. Clearly now his patience with them has snapped. Even if GG does succeed in driving the SWP out of RESPECT the party still has no future. It has no high profile candidates other than the big Scot and it would be a major upset if at the next general election they were to make any gains. In fact, Galloway has been through a lot over the past couple of years and I doubt if even his 'personality' would now be enough to earn them a space at Westminster.

As I said earlier on this blog, it'll take a general election to kill off RESPECT. Until then its members will continue on like the proverbial headless chicken trying to convince themselves that they represent a brave new world for the British people. When RESPECT is killed off expect George's political career to be killed off too, in which case he might need a few more hours a week in the chair at talkSPORT to help fund that extravagant lifestyle of his. And the SWP? Well, they'll never be killed off. As long as there remains one true believer to flog the paper outside McDonald's on a Saturday afternoon then the revolution will still be alive. Sounds like a kind of happy ending for everyone, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Old habits dying hard?

It is far too soon to jump to conclusions but the news does not appear to be good. It certainly isn’t good if you happen to be a member of the family of Paul Quinn. The 21 year old man was murdered last night. The details of his slaying could have come out of a news report from the darkest days of the troubles: a young man is ordered to leave Ireland, ignores the thugs and is then found dead on an isolated country road on the Armagh-Monaghan border. So far we don’t know all that much about the killing. What we do know is a cause for concern.

According the parents of Paul Quinn the young man had been involved in a “dispute” with local members of the IRA. "We believe that he was abducted by the Provisional movement and brutally beaten to death," read a statement issued by the family this afternoon. You don’t need a degree in Irish history and politics to understand the significance of this area. This chunk of borderland is a republican stronghold and for decades the base of the Provo’s notorious South Armagh Brigade. It gained a morbid notoriety as a ‘dumping ground’ for alleged informers, alleged criminal elements and anyone else from the length and breadth of the island who happened to incur the wrath of the Army Council. Conor Murphy, the local Sinn Fein MP, has described the killing as "unjustified" and denied that republicans were involved.

As things stand it would silly to make accusations or to point fingers. However, if it is proved that the Provisional IRA were involved then serious questions would have to be answered. The peace process is over. The republican movement has disarmed. The troubles are something that we are to read about in history books. The bumpy rural border roads of Armagh and Monaghan are now just unremarkable parts of a normal western democratic society. The political consequences of a murder being carried out by supposedly moribund military wing of a governing party in this normal western democracy does not bear thinking about.

I am sure that the political ramifications of the events last night in that farmyard near Castleblayney are not what is occupying the thoughts of the family of Paul Quinn this Sunday night.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

And you thought Illegal Attacks was bad

As much as I like Nicky Kelly I think we can say now with complete and total certainty that he is responsible for the worst political song in the history of humanity. Simply abysmal. Surely he could have spent that €1 million on a decent production team:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Trotting out the usual rubbish

With so much craic and column inches over the past four weeks devoted to the announcment that Fianna Fail would be organising in Northern Ireland I totally forgot to have a look at the usual exercise in ultra left deception known as the publishing of third level freshers fayre recruitment figures. As usual there were declarations of success the like of which had never been seen before. Trots from all four corners of the country reported increases in the amount of fresh faced youngsters willing to sign three years of their lives away going to poorly attended demos and handing out leaflets to disinterested students.

To give you an idea of the amount of people usually expected to join a campus branch how about looking at the figures for the larger mainstream parties. It’s generally accepted that the Provos run the slickest third level machine in the north. Their total number of new ‘volunteers’ for the colleges in the occupied six counties amounted to a healthy 200 or so. Apologies, but I can’t be more accurate than that. The Green Party are claiming to have bagged 134 in their efforts. Fianna Fail’s northern debut was a decent one with the Soldiers of Destiny bragging about 150 guys and gals added to the ranks of The Republican Party. I couldn't come across figures for the DUP but past tales suggest that they run the Shinners close. Chris Gaskin, former chair of Sinn Fein's QUB branch and author of the conservative republican blog Balrog, is one of the only student organisers I've ever heard having the honesty to admit what everyone else knows: that about one in every ten people who sign up on freshers day will actually bother taking an interest for the rest of their time at college.

So then, what sort of numbers would you expect a minor organisation like the Socialist Workers Party to register? Ten? Twenty? Surely not much more than that. No? Wrong. It appears that the SWP outperformed every single party in Northern Ireland and attracted - in Queen’s University alone - a staggering 200 members. Yes, that’s TWO HUNDRED members. In one university. For a small Trotskyite group. Indeed, this an organisation that, according to its own figures in 2004, only has 500 members in whole of Ireland. If this is true then whoever was running the SWP stall at Queen’s is one very persuasive individual. Perhaps we've got a repeat of Petrograd 1917 or Paris 1968 on our hands. But then, it isn’t true. We’ve been here before. This time last year to be precise.

According to the Socialist Worker article bearing the title “200 join Socialist Worker in Queens” the day after the freshers fayre saw 40 people attend a - surprise, surprise - meeting on the life of Che Guevara. Two things crop up here for me. One, how come 160 people supposedly recruited at the fayre didn’t turn up for the meeting? That’s a huge number of people losing interest in the space of 24 hours. Number two, I realise it’s the 40th anniversary of the man’s death but why can left wing groups not come up with something a bit more original than a meeting on the life Che Guevara?

To be totally fair to the SWP their arch enemies in the Socialist Party didn’t do much better when it came to having an original title for a meeting. Posters around Botanic Avenue and University Road at the moment promote an upcoming meeting entitled ‘Is Marxism still relevant?’. Hmmm. Haven’t I come across that one before? Expect ‘Why You Should be a Marxist’, ‘No Blood For Oil’ and ‘Can Palestine Be Free?’ titled meetings to come along soon just to complete the clichéd gatherings.

Maybe I’m wrong. If so, and if you are one of the 200 who signed up for the revolution at QUB, please leave a comment on the space provided below or email me at the address listed elsewhere on this website and tell us why you and scores of others volunteered to change the world. As I say, I’m willing to be proved wrong on everything I’ve said.

Five years at university and I didn’t go to one Che Guevara meeting. I’m starting to think I might have missed something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Patio heater owners look away now

If you have time on your hands tonight, and you aren't interested in the Euro 2008 football qualifiers, you may wish to take a gawk at Location, Location, Location: Best and Worst Live. This programme is living proof that the very worst in the spirit of the 1980s is alive and well and tucked up in a prime time slot on Channel 4. A more accurate title for this trash telly would be Let's Spend Two Fabulous Hours Looking at Where the Disadvantaged Reside (or as I call it, home). Admittedly my title doesn't roll off tongue as easily. To add some balance we'll also get the chance to see some of the finest places to live in the UK as well (or as I call them, places I can't afford to live in). Presenting this festival of snobbery will be the unfeasibly bland Phil Spencer and the Conservative Party's number one - Adam Rickitt being number two - celebrity supporter Kirstie Allsopp.

I have always hated people who make sweeping generalisations but for once I'm going to indulge in one myself and here it is. Anyone who enjoys Location, Location, Location is repugnant. I say this because I am yet to come across one single person who likes this drivel that I don't find utterly nauseating.

You know the type I'm talking about. It's that area of society that host dinner parties. The type that buy a house because it's close to a 'good school'. The kind of individuals who view Home Information Packs as a crime against humanity. They probably drive a Ford Galaxy. They definitely have a patio heater. The men look like Mark Carruthers. The women look like, well, Kirstie Allsopp. End of stereotype.

Regardless of the odious presenters and equally odious audience it could nonetheless be worth watching if the football isn't your cup of tea, if only to see which places in Northern Ireland crop up on the list. A few years ago Strabane in county Tyrone was rated as the third worst place to live in the UK. I suppose we can't really argue with Kirstie and Phil on that one. It is shit.

DISCLAIMER: Do you bear a resemblance to Mark Carruthers, hold dinner parties, drive a Ford Galaxy, own a patio heater yet feel aggrieved at the above representation of you? If so then I unreservedly apologise and once again pledge not to indulge in such facile pigeonholing. In the meantime, lose the patio heater and get a life you eejit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thirty Shinners walk into a bar...

Football hooliganism has never really been a problem in Ireland. There has been a few blips down through the years but nothing too serious. One of the main reasons for the lack of hand-to-hand combat at matches has probably been the volume of support. Don’t know what I mean? OK, this is Monday. Tonight have a peek at the evening news when the sports reporters are doing their roundup of the weekends soccer action and have a look at the attendances at Irish League and Eircom League games. All matches - without exception - will be thinly attended. Most people in Ireland prefer supporting an English club or one of the two Glasgow sides. Ireland is rapidly moving forward these days and now, along with Tesco and decent roads, we have violence at football matches.

Last Monday night Derry City and Dublin side Bohemians met in the final of the Eircom League Cup in Derry. Derry won 1-0 but that really wasn’t the story. The big talking point of the night was the attack on the Tavern Bar in the city centre by a group of drunken fans of the visiting team. From their perspective a good job was done. All the windows on the bar were broken and the pub was trashed. Where they didn’t do so well was the getting away with it. The PSNI arrested four of the Dubs before they got the chance to get back across the border (not that it would really have mattered as the Gardai would have chucked them back into the north again even if they had managed to escape).

What made this piece of hooliganism particularly nasty was the sectarian aspect. For those not familiar with Derry the Tavern Bar, situated on the edge of the mainly unionist Fountain district, is the only Protestant pub in the city centre. The spokespersons for Bohemians have issued predictable statements about how these people were not ‘true supporters’. Though you have to ask yourself if they were really just a few Dublin drunks looking a row why exactly would they drive 150 miles to have one. Clearly they were fans. Clearly they intended to beat up a few Prods while they were in the area. To be fair to Bohemians fans a group of their supporters held a fundraising event last week to get some cash together to foot the Tavern Bar’s repair bill.

So that’s the end of it. Dublin football hooligans go to Derry, wreck pub in sectarian rampage, PSNI jail the thugs and real supporters in the capital raise cash to fix the damage. A happy ending? Not by a long shot. It has now emerged that one of the thugs in the sectarian gang was a 29 year old called Francis O’Reilly, a member of Sinn Fein. He is now serving three months in jail for his part in striking this brave blow for the Republic. I wonder how impressed Pearse and Connolly would have been by a brawl in a pub?

I have no problem with recognising that Sinn Fein have changed over the past twenty years. However, there remains an ugly underbelly to the party, one that does not infect the rest of the mainstream, and it exists particularly in its grassroots. Sinn Fein want to be considered a normal democratic party. With the Provisional IRA now packed off to the history books we can consider them a normal democratic party. The onus now is on SF members to start acting like they are in a normal democratic party. In recent times the activities of some Shinners has left a lot to be desired.

Take Niall Bennett, a friend and party election worker for the Dublin South Central TD Aengus O’Snodaigh. Mr Bennett and some other SF members were picked up by the Gardai in Wicklow a few years back and found in possession of a gun, police clothing, CS gas, balaclavas and cudgels. For some reason they had with them election posters at the time for the Provo’s Louth TD Arthur Morgan. Odd. Then of course there was the presence of several Sinn Fein members in Magennis’s Bar in Belfast on the night Robert McCartney was stabbed to death by members of the Provisional IRA. Seven party members were expelled in the wake of that incident. Back in 2005 half a dozen Sinn Fein members were involved in the racist assault of a Garda and a group of foreign nationals in county Leitrim. During the assault the words “fuck off back to your own country” were uttered. Céad míle fáilte indeed. I could go on. For a list of Sinn Fein activists and their bad behaviour check out Donal O'Liathain’s article in the Spring 2007 issue of Labour Youth’s Left Tribune.

In the old days incidents like those mentioned above didn’t merit any scrutiny. Sinn Fein activists would regularly be arrested and jailed in connection with Provisional IRA attacks. However, that was then and at least they could use the excuse that they were prosecuting an ‘armed struggle’ against the British occupation. Hijacking a lorry load of vodka in Belfast or beating up east Europeans in some rural backwater is not doing anything for the removal of the border.

At the moment a large chunk of Sinn Fein’s grassroots would - had they been born outside this island - be fully paid up members of the British National Party or the French Front National. Please don’t make excuses for them. This is not a case of some of the old war dogs finding it hard to adapt to the new world. As anyone who has had the pleasure to encounter the great and the good of Ogra Shinn Fein on the streets or on (in my experience) a university campus will realise that the kindergarten Provos are just as fascistic as their elders.

The incident in Derry last week is clearly not a one-off for Sinn Fein. This is a very real problem. They must tackle it. Such levels of thuggery are clearly not a problem for the Green Party or the Ulster Unionists or Fine Gael to name but three. It’s time they got their house in order.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

¡No Pasarán!

On Saturday morning I went along to the unveiling of a monument at Writers Square in Belfast to the men who died in the struggle against fascism in Spain in the 1930s. Speaking at the event was Bob Doyle, the last Irishmen alive today who fought in the Civil War and author of the book Brigadista: An Irishman's Fight Against Fascism. Representatives of various parties and organisations were in attendance. Thankfully, despite all the usual suspects of the broad left combing the area, the event was dignified - I wasn’t once asked if I wanted to purchase a badly produced newspaper. Fittingly, and after a great performance of The Internationale by Pol MacAdam, it was left to Bob Doyle to reveal Belfast’s newest landmark to the assembled audience.

For years now citizens of this city have had to endure the erecting of paramilitary memorials, an example being the exceptionally tacky republican garden of remembrance on the Falls Road which I am ashamed to say is shown to every single tourist that takes a ride on the big red tour bus. The memorial in Writers Square is small, subtle and honours one of the great displays of humanity and solidarity.

For our generation the fight goes on.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Charlie said 'I'm cool with that,' and set fire to a posh hammer to make it official."

Does anyone know when the third series of The Mighty Boosh is due to start? If I see one more repeat of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps I'll kill myself. For now, here's the story of Charlie:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not very quiet on the southern front

I’m not sure if Holylands Warzone is in fact a joke. It could be. Then again it may not. The author does seem to be pretty serious though. People who live in Belfast or know the city well will be aware of an area in the south of the city commonly referred to as the Holylands, this due to it being a maze of streets which all carry intriguing names such as Palestine Street, Jerusalem Street, etc, etc. You get the idea.

One of the saddest developments over the course of the past decade has been the gradual decline of this old community. What was once a thriving little area lying between the lower end of the Ormeau Road and Botanic Avenue has now become something approaching a wasteland which is only inhabited during term time by university students. Many ordinary families and residents have moved out long ago. Most of the houses that the students have to live in are run down, though when you’re a student things like that clearly don’t annoy you. Relations between residents and students have been frayed now for a very long time and do not look like getting better at any point soon. The only people I see benefiting out of this whole debacle are the landlords.

It really irritates me to hear students from this area badmouthing residents (something rarely justified) or on the other hand residents badmouthing students (justified at times but still usually over the top). The author of Holylands Warzone, Belfast Samizdat, falls into the latter category. I do have sympathy with him to an extent. Yes, students can be noisy. Yes, students are pretty annoying. However, Belfast Samizdat rarely finds the room to say anything positive about students and on an occasion back at the start of this term when several cars belonging to students were destroyed in a spate of arson attacks, well, his unequivocal condemnation was not exactly forthcoming.

Incidentally, I lived in this area with my partner for a couple of years when I first started working in Belfast. To be totally honest I didn’t find the students to be as big a problem as many make them out to be. The odd Monday night now and again could be quite noisy. The only real problem that occurred in my time there actually came when an idiot chucked an empty beer bottle through our front window. That took place on a Saturday night in July, not a time of the year noted for rowdy students.

Interesting nevertheless. For more have a look at:

http://holylandswarzone.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Going. Going. Gone?

Adieu RESPECT. Or was that 'Respect', as in the lower case spelling of the word? Actually, does anyone even care? Regardless of how we spell the name it seems that the three way alliance between the Rt. Hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, the Muslim Association of Britain and some opportunistic ultra leftist sects is finally - if rumours are to be believed - on the verge of extinction.

In a recent letter to members of the party/coalition/thing George Galloway claimed that the organisation had become moribund and suffered from a culture of amateurism. He also criticised the selection process for RESPECT (I think it is upper case) staff claiming that "people pop up as staff members in jobs which have not been advertised, for which there have been no interviews and whose job descriptions are unclear and certainly unpublished". Disorder? Confusion? Members coming and going on a daily basis? Welcome to life in a Trotskyite front, Mr Galloway!

Now that he has this mess on his plate I bet he misses that smooth running Labour Party machine that he had been used to for all those years. Thinly attended meetings in manky coffee shops in the east end of London surely can't have the same allure for a cultured man like GG as puffing on a cigar while poolside with Fidel Castro. I didn’t see this side of Galloway coming. I always knew he was a Stalinist and a great admirer of Arab dictators, but if you had asked me a few years back to pick a Labour MP most likely to get chucked out of the party and form a ridiculous alliance with a harebrained Trot faction and some rogue Islamic clerics I would have put the big man from Dundee well towards the back of the queue. Let's just say State Capitalism in Russia would not have been on the bookshelf in the Galloway household (and if his comments on a recent talkSPORT broadcast are anything to go by neither was Orwell, but that's a whole different discussion for another day). It seems now to be a matter not of if the so-called 'unity coalition' collapses but when it eventually caves in. Of course the vast majority of people on the left saw the disaster coming and they saw it a long time ago.

When RESPECT does eventually pop its clogs there will be very little for the faithful to look back on and find comfort in. Yes, they did get a few councillors elected but some of these councillors would not even describe themselves as left wing let alone Marxist. Take Ahmed Mustaque from Tower Hamlets. He was elected for the area at the last local council elections in England. Today Mr Mustaque is a councillor for the Liberal Democrats. Beyond London the organization has only been able to pick up a couple of local government seats in Birmingham and Preston - a poor return for a vehicle which made grand claims to be the biggest thing to emerge to the left of Labour since the Communist Party of Great Britain was dissolved in 1991.

The one ‘victory’ which they could perhaps hold up would be George Galloway’s triumph over Oona King in London in the 2005 general election. However, was this really a RESPECT victory or was it a Galloway victory? Galloway was a well known figure in British politics and one of the most high profile critics of the intervention in Iraq. Surely not even the most hardened RESPECT activist would tell me that had they run Lindsey German or the above mentioned Ahmed Mustaque in Bethnal Green and Bow that they would have really unseated Ms King? The truth is that outside of this constituency the coalition has failed to come even remotely close to winning any other Westminster seat.

At least they provided us with some entertainment. Out of all the hiccups and calamities to take place during the lifetime of RESPECT my own personal favourite remains the cringe worthy yet perversely enjoyable appearance of John Rees on Newsnight to defend ‘gorgeous’ George’s appearance on Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother. Discussion at his local SWP branch that week would have been interesting.

That’ll be enough ‘I-told-you-soing’ for now. Anyway, predicting the eventual demise of what was little more than an SWP front group with a few Islamists welded on to boost the numbers hardly marks you out as the modern day equivalent of Nostradamus. Not that RESPECT is officially dead yet of course. It could take a long time yet for Rees and friends to finally put their sick animal to sleep so it will probably stumble on for another few years until it eventually dies peacefully. The reality of course is that when Galloway decides its time to jump ship then the whole project really will be kaput and, if you ask me, that moment is not all that far away.

Just in case you are wondering, apparently RESPECT is spelt using capital letters. Upper case. Hmmm. Radical.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hasta la victoria siempre! Or something like that.

"If Karl Marx were a Cuban he would be in jail or in Miami."

Dr. Oscar Espinosa (Cuban dissident)
Quoted by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, March 2000

Michael Moore does it. George Galloway does it. Backbench Labour MPs do it. The Manic Street Preachers do it. The Mayor of London does it. Lots of students do it. Billy Joel did it once. Sinn Fein still does it. In fact lots of left wingers, former left wingers and pseudo left wingers do it. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the bizarre activity some people choose to indulge in by taking time out from their busy life in a free and democratic society to defend the Stalinist regime in Cuba. For almost half a century now it has become a habit that the left has found unable to shake off.

An old friend of mine who many moons ago was a member of The Workers Party once remarked to me how odd it was that Cuba has for so long been a primary international 'cause' for young leftists to gravitate towards. Why, he asked, was there not a similar enthusiasm when it came to defending the gains of the revolution in Laos or North Korea? What was it that set Cuba apart? Why can you purchase a t-shirt of Che Guevara in Topshop and buy the Fidel Castro Handbook in Waterstone's yet not pick up a Kil Il Sung hoodie in the Gap or a Choummaly Sayasone pamphlet in Eason? Perhaps it was the weather. Membership of a Cuban solidarity group could land you with a week in Varadero, surely a much more preferable trip than spending a few days observing a bumper harvest in a field outside Pyongyang.

Why though? Why would socialists want to sing the praises of a regime which does not hold elections? Why would any good member of the left want to align themselves with a government that brutally represses any form of opposition? How can someone condemn the United States for their prison camp in Guantanamo Bay while actively supporting the dictatorship that ruthlessly runs the rest of the island and rides roughshod over even the most basic of human rights (Amnesty International have not been allowed entry to Cuba for the past 20 years)? How can leftists support a regime that enforces the death penalty? A regime that believes "homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people" (Castro's own words)? In short: if you are socialist you should be calling for a revolution in this country that gets rid of the Castro family junta.

Unfortunately consistency has never been one of the strong points of the left. There appears to be an unwritten rule that states if you have nothing good to say about Cuba then don't bother saying anything. Many who would consider themselves centre left would be part of the brigade that would practice silence on the issue of this little Caribbean island. Others on the left of organisations like the Labour Party - by that I mean the Corbyns, the Livingstones, the Galloways - like to use Cuba to inject a bit of radicalism into their lives. Stalinists will always support Cuba as it reminds them of the good old days. Even Trotskyites who might tend to express some reservations about Cuba still could never really bring themselves to openly calling for the overthrow of Communist Party rule in Havana.

Tony Cliff, an affable though ultimately misguided revolutionary who was steadfast in his rejection of the systems offered by both sides during the Cold War, is perhaps the only figure on the far left that I can think of who ever since the New Year's Day revolution of 1959 consistently held the view that Cuba was something not worth lending support to. What took place was a revolution led - not by the urban working class - but by a small guerrilla army operating in a largely rural setting. As Cliff saw it, the result was that while Cuba may have looked revolutionary (no stock exchange, no private property, etc) the people were in fact still being exploited, not by the evil of private capitalism but by a new layer of ruling class in which the citizen was little more than the property of the bureaucracy: state capitalism. If the essence of Marxism was the self-emancipation of the proletariat then this was not it.

The real reason for useful idiots providing passive support for the dictatorship in Havana has nothing to do with the defence of one of the world’s last ‘socialist‘ states or even its agreeable climate. As Nick Cohen pointed out in his book What's Left? earlier this year we live in an age in which many of the great struggles of yesteryear have been won, in our part of the world at least. All adults have the vote. The great European empires have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Racism, sexism and homophobia are no longer acceptable in this new age. Despite all the best attempts of the religious right we continue to live in a society which is proudly secular. Health. Education. Divorce. Contraception. All areas of life that once had thousands of protesting feet on the street are now subjects that people of my own age and younger find it difficult to believe were ever even the subject of debate.

I’m not blind to the problems still with us. Yes, climate change and environmental issues are going to be concerns for the foreseeable future. True, there are crimes taking place as we speak in sweatshops in places such as India and (communist?) China and these must be confronted. And there is no denying that third world poverty lingers as a reminder that all is still not well in our world. However, it appears to be accepted by the vast majority of people in the west that these issues and others will be resolved within our current democratic framework and by the strengthening or extension of democracy to places where it is either weak or non existent. Revolution of the Leninist strand no longer seems to be on the agenda.

Such a dose of reality seems difficult to accept for those who want their politics to come with an exhilarating edge. That is where Cuba comes in, or as it should be these days ‘Cuba and Friends’. You see, after years alone in the post-Soviet wilderness the Castro family have finally scrambled together a loose coalition of crackpot leaders willing to be their friends.

One of these new comrades is the loathsome Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela and ally of the Islamic dictatorship in Tehran. Back in July Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the man who brought you ‘there are no homosexuals in Iran’) welcomed Chavez to his theocratic fiefdom to agree a self-proclaimed ‘Axis of Unity’ with the Venezuelan leader, not to mention getting the chance to lay his hands on some cheap oil too. I know what you’re thinking - ‘Axis of Unity’? Didn’t we all recoil in horror when someone uttered a similar phrase to describe these nations five years ago? Yes we did and now, far from such a term being an example of imperialist deception, it is a formal agreement.

Castro wasn’t in Tehran on the day of the Axis of Unity meeting, but he admits to having some admiration for Holocaust denying halfwit. Apart from sharing his views on gay rights, Fidel has also found common ground with Ahmadinejad in other areas such as opposition to the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and his open support for Iran’s right to pursue a ‘peaceful’ nuclear programme.

Also in this bizarre axis is the Bolivian head honcho Evo Morales. Morales doesn’t have Chavez’s oil, Ahmadinejad’s nuclear programme nor Castro’s anti-imperialist credibility. In truth he looks like the village idiot of the four, which admittedly is quite an achievement when one takes into account the line up. Morales has established diplomatic ties between La Paz and Tehran. Undoubtedly my favourite line by old Evo was his proud declaration that his friendship with Ahmadinejad was not a cause of concern for him because unlike America and Britain “Iran is not a country that is sending troops to kill people in other countries”. Clearly then a high proportion of the Revolutionary Guards just enjoy spending their days off in the company of Shia militia groups in Lebanon and Iraq.

In reality there is very little to unite those in the ‘Axis of Unity’. Castro remains the Stalinist he has been for around half a century. Chavez is a Catholic nationalist with an admiration for figures as diverse as Saint Francis of Assisi and Leon Trotsky. Ahmadinejad is a theocratic fascist. The only thing that seems to unite this motley crew - and of course the revolutionary tourists of the 'support groups' and 'solidarity organisations' in our own lands - is a hatred of the United States and a total disregard for human rights and democracy. Writers and commentators from Christopher Hitchens to Nick Cohen have noted this and attempted to set the left straight only to be attacked, vilified and subsequently excommunicated from the left. Today, in Ireland and around the western world, there are young and not so young people prepared to throw their weight behind Cuba and their pals in the hope of a brave new world. You don’t have to look hard.

A few weeks back I picked up a pamphlet at an SWP stall. The pamphlet, entitled Target Iran - Why the US wants war?, was written by George Galloway and astoundingly defends the right of Iran to pursuing their own nuclear programme. Wasn’t this the sort of thing that the left used to be opposed to? It actually states: “Iran’s nuclear programme is neither ambitious nor economically unjustifiable” and since Britain and the US have one the Iranians should too. So its official - the Trots want more nuclear reactors! At best this is naïve, at worst it is tantamount to asking an armed man if he wants help loading his weapon and then offering for him to take a potshot at you. In the old days the SWP had a principled slogan with ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism’. Suggestions for their new slogan on a postcard please.

If you happen to be an admirer of the Latin American wing of the Axis of Unity and have time to spare this Monday or Wednesday you may be interested in dropping in to one of the two pro-Venezuela meetings to be held in Dublin and Belfast. The first meeting in the south will be held at the headquarters of the Communist Party while the northern meetings two days later will be at An Cultúrlann on the Falls Road. A speaker from Chavez’s United Socialist Party will be in attendance as will a representative from Hands Off Venezuela - Ireland. According to the flyer, Venezuela “needs the support of the Irish working class”. Don’t say I didn’t remind you.

The Cuba Support Group - Ireland has been busy too. It’s International Work and Solidarity Brigade will be going out to the Caribbean soon. To assist in the building of socialism it will be bringing with it a batch of Dundalk FC jerseys, one of which will even be signed by the entire team (which must be worth at least €30). Other activities of the support group include trying to convince everyone that elections take place in Cuba, getting a pro-Cuban wall mural painted in west Belfast and writing strongly worded letters to the Irish Times. Not to be left out of all the revolutionary escapades, Sinn Fein are holding a Cuban night at a Dublin pub on Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Apparently Gerry Kelly will be calling in to make a speech and enjoy some traditional Cuban music.

If the above examples were not so serious then perhaps we could laugh at supplying Cuba with Eircom League football jerseys or Trotskyite micro groups backing Iranian nuclear power. It is not funny though. Yet if support for Cuba and its newfound allies were confined only to the margins of rogue Muslim clerics, ex IRA members and left sects then I would at least be able to relax, but it is not.

Labour Youth is the youth wing of the Irish Labour Party. It is a member of the European Community Organisation of Socialist Youth and stands in the proud democratic tradition of the Socialist International. This is my tradition and they are my comrades. Every year Labour Youth organise the Connolly Festival, a weekend of debate and discussion for young workers and students on the democratic left.

Meetings this year had titles such as ‘Ireland and the Spanish Civil War’, ‘Fighting for Travellers Rights’ and ‘Justice for Terence Wheelock’. Friday evening though saw a meeting on Cuba at which the guest speaker was Noel Carillo, Castro’s ambassador to Ireland. A wretched, low level Stalinist henchman provided with a platform in an arena for democratic socialism. The festival deserved better. Please do not lecture me on Mr Carillo’s right to freedom of speech for I can with total certainty state that no such thing as the Connolly Festival would be permitted in his homeland. How can members of our great tradition give the oxygen of publicity to the representative a regime that will not allow the organisation of a party affiliated to the SI, or indeed any political opposition whatsoever? Just imagine if, for example, the Labour Youth meeting had invited someone representing the military government in Burma to speak about how we should be opposing the sanctions imposed on that particular unsavoury state. That’s correct. You couldn’t imagine it.

The past week has seen all of us - the Labour Party included - condemn the actions of authorities against pro-democracy campaigners in Burma. We must go one step further and recognise that there is no difference between the junta in Rangoon and the bureaucratic clique in Havana. If we do not and continue to hold to the illusion that Cuba is in some way progressive then sadly the credentials of the democratic left, as outlined at the first congress of Socialist International at Frankfurt in 1951, will be all but discarded by this generation of social democrats.

Enough about Castro and his buddies. I was actually getting myself ready for the Belfast march this Saturday as part of the International Day of Solidarity with the people of Burma. Sadly, I have just discovered that Belfast is not taking part. No solidarity this weekend. Not with Burma anyhow. In the meantime the campaign to oppose democracy in Cuba will continue.

It appears I’ll just have to help the workers, students and monks of Rangoon in whatever small way I can. Now, where did I leave those Dundalk FC jerseys?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Flawless

Haunting. Atmospheric. Surreal. Sexy. It’s Kate Bush with rabbits on bicycles. It’s exceptional. It should have won the Mercury Prize:

Monday, October 01, 2007

A mystery of Ancient Egypt on Stranmillis Road

I took a trip with my partner to the Ulster Museum the other day. It wasn’t planned or anything. We had been on a leisurely stroll through Botanic Park when it was decided that if we didn’t do it on the spur of the moment we probably wouldn’t think of doing it for a long time to come.

It had been a couple of years since I’d called in to what is arguably Belfast’s ugliest building. I didn’t honestly expect it to have changed inside all that much. When I was there in 2005 to see a temporary exhibition that had been put on the museum was almost exactly how I remembered it when I had visited it as a primary school kid many years before. I was astounded that Takabuti, the infamous Egyptian mummy and a gruesome sight that had scared me as a youngster, was still in residence. Sadly, my 2007 visit was stopped in its tracks - the museum was closed. Not for the day or even the weekend. The Ulster Museum is closed until Spring 2009. How very Belfast.

It left me wondering though: while the renovations are being completed over the next two years where is Takabuti?